Well, it’s semi-old news by now, but Square-Enix has announced Final Fantasy XIII-2, only the second time the developer has produced a direct sequel to its storied franchise. Typically each Final Fantasy takes place in a different world, full of different characters, but in this instance XIII’s director Motomu Toriyama determined that there was call for a sequel. It was in part, he claims, to allow the protagonist Lightning to find “a happy ending.”
I did finally get around to finishing Final Fantasy XIII, and I’m pleased to read (though not necessarily believe) that XIII-2 will be an open RPG with a darker tone. I dig dark tones. And it’s not like Final Fantasy XIII was puppies and light. If it hadn’t been for certain infantile characters and extraordinarily clumsy moments of humor, it would have been a grim, grim story. Genocide, religious intolerance, fascistic governments, loss of children, parents, siblings; if they’d hired a better writer this game would’ve had it going on.
They didn’t, though, and settled for a bombastic and over the top tone full of Saturday morning cartoon platitudes and character missteps. It was bearable but didn’t take advantage of its darkness the way it could have. So a darker story might be good.
How does this fit into Lightning’s “happy ending,” though? And why does Lightning need one?
I can guarantee you that she doesn’t want one. Motomu Toriyama may want one for her, but Lightning has wrapped herself in so many layers of self-deception and self-loathing, one after the other, that she’s like a human baklava of misery. Even after realizing that she’s just faking herself out in an effort to be an emotionless tough grrrl, Lightning is not a happy person. It may not be in her to be happy. We never saw her before her parents died, but at least in the wake of that tragedy she has reinvented herself as someone who feels nothing by feeling only pain, by driving relentlessly, by moving forward no matter what because stopping even for a second might let it all in. Happy endings are not for her.
What is it about happy endings? Why does everything need them? Life doesn’t have a happy ending. The real world won’t have a happy ending. Wouldn’t Square show a little more innovation by ending the game where it ended, or giving us a sequel that’s not just dark but promises doom for characters who prefer to find their own joy through suffering? XIII-2 is basically going to be cobbled together from all the crap they cut from XIII, plus new skimpier outfits and a few more CG scenes. It may well be a better game; Final Fantasy X-2 is considered one of the highlights of the franchise.
Heavy Rain ended badly for me, and I appreciated it. I was even a little grateful. The story is so horrifying throughout that a kittens and bunnies and balloons ending would have clashed. I mean to play through again – after all I got not just an unhappy ending but the worst ending in the world – so I might try to improve it a little.
Look, if Square wants to make Final Fantasy XIII-2 because XIII sold a ton and they want to capitalize on the skimpy attire of its female leads, go for it. But Motomu Toriyama’s desire for a happy ending – for Lightning specifically, no less – smacks of a director who doesn’t understand the theme and nature of his creation. And that not only explains many of the flaws in XIII, it sets a low bar for this sequel.